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Troy Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 November 2006

Image “Beware Greeks bearing gifts,” became a saying thousands of years ago. Historians today trace it to tales of the Trojan War, which may not have really happened. Or if it did, not all the details presented by the blind poet Homer were part of the true story. Specifically, the saying was aimed at the Trojan Horse Odysseus created near the end of the Trojan War that allowed the Greeks to invade the impenetrable city of Troy.

Oddly enough, this point—which comes in late in the movie, “Troy”—somehow makes the story of Achilles and Hector seem less real (even without the gods and goddesses), taking away from all the events that have led up to this part of the film and making it more of a story. In all the tales I remember reading as a kid, the story of the wooden horse fooling the Trojans was truly cool. However, after watching the movie, I realized that the Horse was really one of the least interesting aspects of the story.

The best thing about “Troy”, based on Homer’s “The Iliad”, is the tale of the two warriors, Achilles (Brad Pitt) and Hector (Eric Bana), and the tragedies that befall them. That constant reversal of fortune that ultimately locks them in lethal combat is what captures the attention of the viewer. The twists and turns of the plots, the mistakes that are made, constantly drive the plot forward to a point of no return. No one comes out of this movie cleanly, and that makes for good storytelling.

On the surface, the plot of “Troy” revolves around infatuation of Paris (Orlando Bloom) with Helen (Diane Kruger), the wife of Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), king of Greece, and brother to Agamemnon (Brian Cox), who has forever wanted to sack Troy to add to his empire. The star-crossed lovers’ story quickly gives way to the other plots that step up to take over the movie. Agamemnon’s desire to see Troy crushed, Achilles’s need to become famous in order to feed his own tremendous ego, and even Paris’s pathetic attempt to try to take responsibility for his actions all move into the forefront at different times. “Troy” is great old Hollywood storytelling: larger-than-life characters with clear-cut goals, multiple plot lines that all tie up neatly, and a large background. The movie owes a large part of its success to the CG special effects teams that worked on it. The scenes showing thousands of soldiers, and the “thousand ships” that were launched in order to bring Helen back are huge. The feel of the world and those battles are awesome. Back in the day, Hollywood would have had to hire a cast of thousands, and with the cost of movies these days that would have been prohibitive. It still took hundreds of actors and stuntmen, and weeks of training to pull off the action scenes.

HD DVD Video: Visually, “Troy” is stunning. The high-def presentation fills the screen with beautiful color and textures. The images are sharp-edged, even in the heat of battle with hundreds of people engaged in combat. The care that was taken with the ship models shows up well, allowing for a lot of detail. Looking out across a sea of ships (only two of them real, according to the special features piece), you’re treated to a bird’s-eye view of the approaching armada.

HD DVD Audio: The movie has an excellent surround sound. It’s one of the few HD DVDs that have been released with Lossless sound. For some reason the studios are coming out with that only on a few titles. The subwoofer throbs during the conflicts, and the surround sound puts the viewer in the middle of all the action as voices, sword blows, and footsteps ring out all around them. From the beginning of the movie, especially when the champions first come forward to battle, you’re treated to a thunderous roar of spears and swords slamming against shields. Watching this movie late at night might raise the ire of neighbors.

Brad Pitt turns in a good physical performance as Achilles, and does a convincing job on the emotional side as a warrior torn by the desire for glory and getting weary of war. The other characters, especially Rose Byrne as Briseis, shore him up, allowing him to experience the costs of his personal goal to be remembered forever as a warrior. His conversation with Priam (Peter O’Toole) is solid and moving.

Plus, the story material is so deep and so emotionally moving in its unfair treatment of the characters that viewers can’t help but feel sympathetic to everyone but Agamemnon and Menelaus. Those not familiar with the original story in Homer’s epic poem will be watching on tenterhooks as the plot twists and turns. David Benioff’s screenplay makes the most of the source material while staying true to the bones of the tale, though it is bent and twisted for even more emotion.

In my opinion, one of the best decisions made regarding the story was to leave the gods out of the storyline. In “The Iliad”, the gods took part and took sides, sometimes favoring champions only. No mention is made in the movie of Achilles being invulnerable to swords and spears because of a dip in the river. He’s just portrayed as a passionate, skilled warrior driven by his own demons.

Eric Bana delivers a sterling portrayal of Hector, prince of Troy. He carries a certain grim authority about him, but he handles the duality of feared warrior and husband/father/son/brother really well. When he takes command of the troops out in the field, you want to sit up a little straighter in the seat. But he shines as Paris’s brother too when Paris goes off to fight Menelaus.

Sean Bean is another quiet scene-stealer. He stars as Odysseus, the only man hard-headed Achilles listens to. His scenes with Achilles and Hector play big, from the quiet advice he gives to Achilles to the aftermath of Hector’s killing of Patroclus (Garrett Hedlund), Achilles’s young cousin who’s training to be a warrior.

The villain always stands as one of the most important pieces of any tale. As Agamemnon, Brian Cox comes across as a dastardly power monger. I like Cox as an actor and he seems to split his roles between good and evil. But here I had to resist the impulse to boo and hiss every time he stepped onto the screen. His various machinations as he bends everyone around him to his will, except Achilles, are truly malevolent.

Orlando Bloom plays Paris, the younger prince of Troy who gets smitten by Helen’s beauty. Paris doesn’t even come close to the heroic figure Bloom cuts in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. Bloom doesn’t really have much of a chance to act because the scenes where he might win viewers to him are overshadowed by the increasing complications for the other characters.

Diane Kruger doesn’t really get much screen time as Helen of Troy, the woman that the Greeks and the Trojans went to war over, but her performance is solid, delivering emotional impact and leavening more intensity to Hector and Paris. Additionally, she is beautiful and it’s easy to see why she was chosen to play Helen.

As Priam, the king of Troy, Peter O’Toole comes across as a strong but tragic figure. His visit to Achilles, to plead for the body of his dead son, is one of the most compelling scenes in the movie.

From the opening sequences, when two massive armies meet and bloodshed is imminent, “Troy” grips and fascinates on several levels. Achilles plays too big at first and it would be easy to discount him, but the impending battle captures the attention. By the end of Achilles’s first triumph and Paris’s affair with Helen, the audience is hooked, waiting to see what’s going to happen.

The special features contain a lot of material pertaining to the filming of the movie. “In The Thick of Battle” deals with all the effort and training required to bring the “armies” up to spec for the fight scenes. Weeks went into the preparation for those sequences, and they translated into stunning visual treats for the viewer. “From Ruins to Reality” reveals all the effort taken to rebuild Troy. “Troy: An Effects Odyssey” shows the computer generated effort to make Troy believable. “Gallery of the Gods” is a little cheesy and doesn’t really add any information that anyone familiar with Greek mythology won’t already know, and none of the information really has to do with the film. One of the funniest bits, although it’s way too short, is the “Previsualizations” section. The computer graphics guys went nuts with some of the work they were doing. I’m sure these were probably just in-jokes that made the rounds, but it’s fun to see them here.

“Troy” isn’t going to be a movie for everyone. At nearly three hours in length, a lot of viewers aren’t going to want to sit down for a leisurely watch. Viewing the movie takes planning and consideration, because you won’t want to get up in the middle or pick it up the next day. Secondly, there’s just enough nudity and plenty of violence and gore to move “Troy” out of family night if the movie length didn’t already do that.

However, “Troy” succeeds beautifully as a major epic in the old school Hollywood style. The plot is large and the characters all stand to lose something. Yet even at almost three hours, most of the personalities and problems are barely skimmed. There isn’t a story in the movie that couldn’t have been expanded on. For the action lovers, the historical epic lovers, and the people who follow the particular actors and actresses featured in the movie, “Troy” is a welcome addition to the home library.

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